George and I were in our rental car en route from Albuquerque to Durango like two laboratory mice escaped from the maze and scurrying across the floor towards the open door.
George was talking about plans for the software company that he, his cousin George, and friend Scott had started. "We organized it to be a research company. We'll be writing proposals and sending them off, licensing our software. We won't be in the business of sales.
"I don't see how we could miss getting the NASA grant, so we'll have $90,000 within a few months for proof of concept, and then $800,000 next year for product development. Your vita is in the proposal, so we'll get you a new computer."
My position was that I'd believe the money when I saw it. I talked about plans I could carry out alone: writing textbooks and magazine articles to add to my Professor's income. It might not be much income, but it would not depend as much on the actions of others. But of course, I was open to any opportunities he could come up with.
"As F. Scott Fitzgerald said to Ernest Hemingway," I said, "`The rich are very different than you and I, Ernest.'"
"`Yes,'" George quoted back to me, "`they have money.'"
It is our favorite quote.
At Abiquiu of Georgia O'Keeffe fame, it was my turn to drive. George napped and I reflected on this vacation.
I had not had a vacation in years. I didn't see the point in one. If I was doing what I should be doing, then I would love it better than anything else, and a vacation would only be a distraction. If I wasn't doing what I should be, then I should change my job.
But I had been chronically unhappy for three years at least. I had been spending my winters teaching and researching and my summers in even more intense research and writing, trying to make use of the three months without distraction. So far my work had been without completion and without success, but I threw myself into it desperately. My work was an immortality project, an effort to leave something after I'm gone. So far, I was sure, if I died, nobody would notice, at least not for long.
And family life was not satisfying. My fifteen-year-old son spent this past year experimenting and fouling-up royally, leaving me seriously worried for his future. It's strange. In everybody else, I appreciate the twice-born experience, the mistakes corrected and life turned around, but not in him. A hypocrisy of parenthood. The major requirement of parenthood is hypocrisy, standing up for society's standards that you don't yourself live up to. I'm not a good parent; there are limits to my hypocrisy.
Along with my worries for his future, there is an emptiness: he shares neither my name nor my genes. The worries, expense, and frustration grind me down, but he cannot repay me by being my immortality. That makes a difference.
And so I was beginning to understand vacations. It is not that the activities on vacation are more desirable than the activities at work, not that they are the real pleasures of life. No work and no family can fill the Great Emptiness, but vacations help us forget. Vacations are escape, however brief.
So my life has come to this? That it is something to escape from?
I was off on a pilgrimage to ride the steam narrow gauge railroads of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. I called it a pilgrimage. I did not know why. I brought a journal with me to write down my experiences. I did not know why.
I remembered that the day before, even though I was busy getting ready for the trip, I took out time to go up to the Chicago Botanic Garden to say good-bye to the century plant. A century plant, desert agave to be more specific, grows in the Sonoran desert. It grows for eight to twenty years as a kind of ball of sword-like leaves. Then it sends up a shoot that looks like a huge asparagus stalk 35 feet into the sky. The stalk branches at the top into a tuft which blossoms into yellow flowers. The flowers last for maybe a week, then the century plant dies. When I said good-bye, the last of the flowers were blooming and the leaves were drooping. I couldn't help thinking, "It's whole life was just for this."
Thirty miles or so north of Abiquiu, Highway 84 started climbing into the mountains. George was astonished at how quickly the vegetation changed between piney mountain sides, mountain meadows, and bare rock and scrub brush. Each bend can bring something new, and the road is all bends. Like life.
As we headed west from Pagosa Springs, the sun was below the mountains. The western sky was pale yellow with a trace of a blush; the mountains were black silhouettes. We descended into the valley of the Animas River and Durango in the darkening twilight at nine o'clock.
It became clear Sunday morning what the major advantage of our motel, the Edelweiss, was: the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs past just a short walk downhill from it. From the parking lot, I watched the San Juan Express steam by at about 7:50 AM.
At 8:40 I was down at the track waiting for the First Silverton Train. Off to the south I could see black smoke far away. I could barely perceive that the source of the smoke was moving. Flute- like, the whistle blew long-long-short-long, Morse code "Q", at a far-off crossing. And so I watched for about ten minutes as the smoke and whistle came closer. Then I could hear the train itself whooshing and rumbling, and suddenly there it was, rounding the curve.
Not fast, no faster than twenty miles an hour, the train came. The engine was massive and, except for it's gray smokebox, completely black. The smoke puffed in 4/4 time: WHOOF-whoof-whoof- whoof, WHOOF-whoof-whoof-whoof, WHOOF-whoof-whoof-whoof. The rods swung raising and falling back and forth. The engine rumbled and whoofed past and the golden orange passenger cars click-clicked by. The tourists and I waved happily to each other.
When I was a young child, my father would take me down to the railroad station to meet the trains. My father was the postmaster of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and inspected the handling of the mail at the station. I stood on the platform peering far down the track listening for the whistle and trying to catch the first sight of the smoke and the head lamp. Some of my earliest memories are of the Santa Fe and M. K. T. steam engines, huge and black. The puffing smoke, the screaming whistles, the shrill clanging of the bells, the Fffffff of venting steam bring me back. I'm a little boy again, off with his father on an adventure.
I asked the old man who owns the motel where I could get biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It was hard to get in Chicago. He told me that without question the place to eat was Lori's Restaurant. We asked confirmation from the waitress as we ordered. She assured us the advice was true. Max has been perfecting his gravy for forty years. She also told us that although we could order three biscuits, two would be quite sufficient for most mortals.
Two biscuits with gravy covered an entire platter. The thick, white gravy contained lumps of sausage and ground beef. It came with small bottles of chili sauce to give it a bite.
"I feel my arteries clogging up already," said George.
"I don't. Food eaten on vacation doesn't count," I said.
We were downtown on Narrow Gauge Avenue to watch the Third Silverton Train leave at 10:10. Several photographers crouched along the track. With whooping whistle, frantic, shrill clanging of its bell, the train crept out of the station and crawled past us, slowly gathering speed. We again filled our lungs with the sweet smell of bituminous coal smoke. We gaily waved at the passengers and they waved at us.
George and I walked up to Main Avenue, a block east of the railroad, and then along Main from 6th Street to 13th and back. The weather was gorgeous, a sunny, dry, comforting warmth, a stark contrast to Chicago's hot, humid hell that had just killed over 400 people in the previous month.
We counted three coffee shops along Main. "Well, the place looks livable. You always need at least two coffee shops so you can go to the other to punish the one you're miffed at."
We selected the Steaming Bean coffee shop and went in. George picked up a Wall Street Journal from the vending machine out front. "Livable." The Steaming Bean was open from early morning to 11:00 at night. "More livable." There were four varieties of coffee on tap, a regular roast, a dark roast, a decaf, and Kona/Macadamia Nut for the flavored. "More livable still."
"I'm thinking I could live my summers out here. Write all morning, then come here in the afternoons to sip coffee and edit my material. Just avoid the Chicago summer."
"This would be a great place for a branch office," said George. "I wonder what the Net access is like. What we'd need is at least a T1 line or a satellite dish."
"Maybe the college has access. Maybe I could teach a course during the summer to pay for my rent and food. Maybe they have cheap housing."
So we found ourselves driving up to Ft. Lewis College to look around. The road to the college wound back and forth up the side of a mesa in hair-pin turns. When we got to the top, the college lay spread out in modern buildings.
We didn't plan to try to talk to anybody at the college--a Sunday in mid-August didn't seem like an ideal time to find anybody to talk to. We just drove around, looking the campus over, and finding a section of grad-student-poverty town-homes. I might be able to find a cheap place to stay that wasn't a dorm.
We finished our tour at the west side of the campus atop the bluff over Durango. We visually followed the river and the rail line north to were it vanished around a bluff about where we figured our motel was. Then we looked down on the town itself: neat, white, wood-frame houses. I wondered whether there would be any rooms for rent next year. I wondered whether the electric circuits were sufficient for my computers. Was there an Internet provider somewhere down there?
In our walk up Main Avenue, we had seen a poster on the Durango Repertory Theatre advertising a bluegrass performance there that night. We decided to attend.
When we arrived there at 7:00, we found a rather scanty crowd--maybe a third of the rows were empty and the others were sparsely filled--but people were greeting each other and chatting about mutual friends. By accident we had stumbled into a gathering of locals rather than tourists.
The warm-up act was a husband and wife. She played simple rhythm on an acoustic bass. He played guitar. Both sang the songs of love lost. In between songs he revealed he was a physician who had moved out to Durango a while back and that they had attended a number of bluegrass camps and workshops back east in Appalachia. He made obliquely disparaging remarks about the musical tastes of the performer selection committee of the Telluride bluegrass festival that drew murmurs of agreement from the audience.
While they were singing, my mind was seething with fury at my family. I wanted to shake my son and yell, "Just do your goddam job! No one cares about how you feel about it." I wanted to yell at my wife, "I've had it with your carping at me! I've had enough of your bitching! Get out of my life!" Then I realized what was going on. Music opens the door to the emotions, but in me, Pain and Anger loiter by that door waiting their opportunity to escape. If there are any other emotions there, they get shoved aside.
My wife craves emotional intimacy. She wants me to show her my emotions, but when she sees my anger, she is afraid and disgusted. She wants me to let the good emotions show. Well, too bad. She may want it, but she damned well won't get it!
That's my anger talking.
Also my pain.
It was a long warm-up act. They did a set, took a break, did another full length set, and then announced, "The main act has just arrived. They need to catch their breath and tune up. We've been asked to do three more songs. Now it's time to show we're real troupers. What would you like to hear again? Just joking."
After the three more songs and another break, The Grass Is Greener came on: Richard Greene on fiddle, David Grier on guitar, Bill Keith on banjo, Kenny Blackwell on mandolin, and Tim Emmons on bass. The music was all instrumental, hard driving, and surpassingly excellent.
The two stars of the show were Greene and Grier. Greene's fiddling was filled with drive and joy. David Grier's melodic guitar stole the show, especially in his solo variations on "Whisky Before Breakfast."
Greene and Grier were so amazing that they even overshadowed Bill Keith. Keith is credited with introducing a "Keith style" of melodic banjo to bluegrass, the first major innovation since "Scruggs style." Keith also introduced "Keith tuners." Five- string banjos are played in a variety of tunings and it can be a nuisance to change from one to another between tunes. The Keith tuner can be set with two stops, a note apart, and the string tuned back and forth between them with a single twist. In some of his solos, Keith used his tuners to get slides up and down a note. That meant that after the slide, he continued the tune in a different tuning requiring different fingerings.
During their break, standing out front and talking to the fans, Grier was asking advice about restaurants. "I need to get supper and get to sleep." They had driven all day to get to this gig and had not eaten since lunch. Tomorrow they would drive all day to get to the next.
They were like, I thought, the prospectors and miners of a century ago: in a masculine society, away from their women folks, working to exhaustion while seeking their fortunes. But there was a difference; these men had achieved excellence, like finding the mother lode, but it had not brought them prosperity or leisure.
During the breaks I frequented the bake sale table, trying to sample everything at 50 cents apiece. I had to agree with the woman taking the money that the home baked pastries by the president of the Durango Repertory Theatre were better than those donated by the bakery down the street.
During the final break, she said, "You've been such a good customer, just take them free."
I held out a dollar. "Haven't I been overhearing that this is a fund-raiser for some good cause?"
"Oh." She snatched the dollar. "But help yourself to another piece." Then she told me that the fund-raiser was to help the Theatre move. The landlord had decided the property was too valuable.
"How strange," I mused, "that it is the small, interesting, creative things that attract people, but when the people come, the property becomes too valuable to use for the things that attracted the people in the first place."
I did not, however, take another piece. I'd stuffed myself queasy.
At 8:30 AM George and I were seated on a long bench down the side of a covered gondola car as our train crept out of the Durango station. Our bench was on the right side, so we had the sun in our eyes. I was clutching a copy of Doris Osterwald's Cinders & Smoke: A Mile by Mile Guide® for the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad 1. In August of 1964 on a family trip on what was the then the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad between Durango and Silverton, she was talking to another tourist, answering questions about the route and its flora and fauna and geology, when she got the idea to write a guide book. Encouraged by the railroad, she was autographing copies the following August. It's now been through half a dozen revisions.
Her Mile by Mile Guide®, as its name implies, features descriptions and maps tagged to mileposts along the route. The mileposts stand along the right side of the track on the way up to Silverton. They give the miles from Denver on the original Denver and Rio Grande railroad. The Durango station is at mile 451.5.
About mile 454 we pass what used to be Animas City. The D&RG negotiated with Animas City to make it the terminus of the line west from Alamosa, but the city council rejected the railroad's demands, so the D&RG platted, its own town about two miles down river in 1880 and the first train arrived on July 27, 1881. The original idea of the D&RG railroad was to build south from Denver and follow the Rio Grande river to El Paso, and perhaps on to Mexico City. Durango was named after a city in Mexico, consistent with the vision. As for Animas City, in 1947 it was finally annexed to Durango.
To Hermosa, the train follows the broad valley of the Animas with long sections of straight track and a gentle 1.2% grade. At mile 462.5, it starts to wind along the mountain side with a 2.5% grade, which is to say, a rise of 30 inches every 100 feet. By milepost 467 the track, still high up, is following Elbert Creek, named after a Colorado Territorial governor. At about mile 468.5, the train enters a narrow gorge of Elbert Creek, and then suddenly, a half mile later, enters a surprisingly wide meadow and the settlement of Rockwood. Another two tenths of a mile and the train passes through Rockwood Cut (the ridge was not quite high enough to justify a tunnel).
Within a mile, the train pulls out on the high line. The track is laid on a narrow shelf of rock blasted from the side of the cliff. The surveyors had to be lowered on ropes over the side to lay out the line. The workers had to be lowered to drill holes for the black powder charges. The surging, blue-green Animas River is 400 feet below.
I think about those men who built the high line back in the late winter of 1882. We think of the prospectors, seeking their fortune. These men were workers; their work was hard and dangerous, and the pay was no fortune. Why were they there? Why did they think they were there? Were they gathering up the money for a grubstake, or just earning a living?
It is the high line that makes the journey an adventure; it provides the half mile of excitement in the 45 mile trip. An adventure has been defined as long periods of boredom and discomfort punctuated by occasional moments of sheer terror.
The track descends from Rockwood to Tacoma, the only stretch of downgrade from Durango to Silverton. Tacoma has a hydroelectric plant originally completed in 1905 and easily accessible only by train. At Tacoma, rafters and kayakers from Silverton leave the river and take the train out. The rating of the river through the Animas gorge south of Tacoma was described by Bruce Caughey and Dean Winstanley in The Colorado Guide 2 as follows:
Floating this section would have an effect on your body not unlike what the average carrot experiences going through the puree cycle in a Cuisinart.
Beyond Tacoma, the line twists back and forth a few feet above water level the rest of the way to Silverton. Sometimes the valley is broad enough to see the surrounding mountains. Some places you can only see rocky slopes.
Even though the curves are sharp, riding the train, you don't see much of the engine, just an oblique left or right side view. With the rods rising and falling, moving forwards and back, the engine looks much like a large black duck waddling away.
Beyond Tacoma, there are place names without places: Tefft, which had a post office for four months in 1877; Needleton, whose post office lasted from 1882 to 1919; Elk Park. There are abandoned mines along the railroad and many more off in side creeks. They are gone, but the railroad remains. This section of rail line is the place for Buddhist meditations on impermanence.
At Silverton we paused to take a look at our engine. It was a sports model engine, one of the series numbered 470 through 479. I didn't write down which one. These engines are sleek, black, and beautiful. They are also notable for having their air compressors mounted in front of the smoke box, on the left side as you face it. There is a small, rectangular hatch with rounded ends on the other side.
Armed with The Colorado Guide, we went in search of lunch and diversion. We walked over to Greene St., Silverton's main street--well, Silverton's paved street--and ate at Romero's, a Mexican restaurant noted for its Margaritas and for the collection of antique hand-tools mounted along the wall. We admired both.
Then it was off to explore Silverton, which meant visiting shops and galleries along Greene St. Very strange. Silverton is so isolated. In the days before the railroad, Silverton would be cut off all winter and would celebrate when the first string of pack mules would appear on the trails above town. Even with the railroad, winter could isolate the town; the first few miles south of Silverton along the railroad are heavy snow-slide areas. Some winters the railroad was blocked. At least one winter they kept the line open not by digging out the track but by tunneling through the slide. Now they make their living from tourists who buy things they don't buy at home.
Why? Why do people go to the middle of the mountains to go shopping for art?
Maybe it's boredom. Away from all their normal activities, they have to do something; they'll do a lot of things they don't normally do.
Maybe it's that money spent on vacation doesn't count.
On Blair St. we found a coffee shop. Actually, the coffee shop is just the front room: a counter, a few small tables with chairs, and a pot-belly stove. The room behind it offers a wide selection of candles including a beer-keg-sized candle they claim to be the world's largest. (Why do people go to the middle of the mountains to buy candles? They have electricity back home. And candles too, if they want them.) As we went in, we noticed a sign on another shop offering cappuccino. Even Silverton was looking livable.
The way back to Durango, we dozed some. Maybe it was the margaritas. Maybe it's just that the train trip is rather boring.
Following the Animus River as it curved around the bases of mountains, I wondered how to personify it. Is it the victim of massive forces beyond its comprehension, the mountains? Or where it cut the gorge did it show its true self, patient and persistent?
The Mesopotamian god Enki, Lord of the Earth, was the god of water. He was creative, bringing forth vegetation. He was devious, finding ways around obstacles. He was the god of cleverness, intelligence, consciousness. I should make Enki an offering. I have much to learn about finding my way around obstacles--and a lot to learn about persistence.
George and I arrived back in Durango exhausted. George had a headache. I had just a slight one. Was it the intense sunlight? The thin air? Coal smoke? The margaritas? Well, it would not affect our plans. After showering and resting for a few minutes, we headed back into town to eat at the Ore House, reputed to be the best steak house in Southwest Colorado.
When we got to the Ore House around 7:00, we were pleasantly surprised not to find a long line. The Ore House was dim and comfortable. The hostess was 20-ish, with a touch of red in her curly blonde hair. She told us there was a 45 minute wait. She could take our names and we could come back in 30 minutes and see if anyone ahead of us hadn't returned.
George and I looked at each other. "You leave your name," I said.
"All right. Ready? T-H-I-R-U--V-A--T-H-U--K-A-L."
She wrote it on a card. "How do you pronounce that?" George told her. "I'll never remember that."
"You can call me `theoretical.' That's pretty close."
"What nationality is it?"
"Do you have first name?"
"Why don't I call you that."
So we went out to kill half an hour. When we got back, the hostess quickly shuffled through her cards and found ours. "I've forgotten what to call you," she said.
"It'll be just a few more minutes. Why don't you sit in the bar? By the way, is that little patch of white in your hair natural?"
"Yes," said George. "My father had it too."
"It makes you look debonair."
We pulled up chairs to a small round low table and waited. "I don't think I can drink anything with this headache," said George. I took out my journal to make a few notes. "Be sure you get the part about me looking debonair."
The waitress came over, a tall, thin young woman with long, straight blonde hair. "What may I get for you?"
"I'd like some interesting beer. What do you have?"
"Nothing on tap." She recited and discussed the imported and microbrewery bottles. I choose Wheat Hook, which was supposed to be close to a weiss beer. "My friend has a headache. Could you bring him an aspirin?"
She pondered a moment. "Yes, but I'll get in trouble if I give any to you and you're inspectors or anything. If you swear you're not official, I'll get you some."
She brought me a bottle and glass and George a glass of water and the aspirin in a paper condiments cup. "I had to touch them to get them out," she apologized.
"That's fine," George assured her.
My beer was $3.25. I left her the rest of the $5.00 as tip.
The host came up to us. "Theoretical? Your table's ready."
George and I both ordered steaks. I choose the 12 oz New York strip their menu called the "Yardmaster." After discussing it with the waiter, George choose the special ribeye. The most intriguing item, however, was one I didn't feel hungry or rich enough to try:
Ore House Grubsteak (Steak, Lobster & Crab)
When you've finally "hit the Mother Lode," this is the one for you.
(Based on the current price of gold.)
As we sat, eating our salads and the loaf of warm, freshly baked whole-wheat bread, we didn't have much of a conversation. George had his headache. I was tired. When the food arrived, I got the widest, thickest, heaviest 12 ounces of steak I have ever had. They must measure everything in Troy ounces. I did have to send mine back to put more medium in the medium rare. It came back quickly and perfectly done. The waiter came back by a moment later to see if it was all right now. The host came by to check. The bar waitress waved from across the room and said "Thanks." I have never had such good food and such caring service anywhere else.
"I wish we had come here when I was feeling better," said George.
"I do too."
They did their best for us. It was the best place we ate all trip, but we were unable to enjoy it.
Other than to ride the trains, my one firm goal for this trip was to go river rafting on the Rio de las Animas Perdidas. Years ago I had driven US route 666 through eastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Last visit I had visited the Purgatory ski area north of Durango. This time I intended to complete a slogan worth putting on a T-shirt:
I have driven the highway whose number is 666.
I have walked the mountains of Purgatory.
I have rafted down the River of Lost Souls.
If only there were some way to have rafted down the river without actually rafting down it! It is strange to love the mountains without liking the out-of-doors. And the instructions given out by the rafting company were troubling: Wear shoes you don't mind getting wet. Wear clothing that dries quickly; avoid cottons.
Other than warm showers, I do not like to get wet.
Tuesday morning George sat in the Steaming Bean editing an outline for his dissertation. I was in and out doing some shopping for our river rafting that afternoon.
I went into a sports shop looking for retainers to keep our glasses on. There was a clipping taped up behind the counter, "No pain/no gain."
I pointed to it. "I like it. Sounds like a good deal. I'll take it."
At 1:30 we boarded the bus to go rafting. A mountain-man, thin with a bushy white beard, called roll. Since George had signed up for the rafting, I wondered what the guy would make of the name. He paused a moment, then went on. At the end of the list, he asked, "Is there anybody whose name I haven't called?"
"Right. Okay, we're all here."
At the embarkation point north of town, we were outfitted with life jackets, given the safety lecture, and divided up among the rafts. One family had eighteen members present. Since the rafts hold only eight passengers plus a guide, the family was divided up into three groups of six and assigned to rafts with two other passengers apiece. Naturally, George and I were one of those groups of two.
The Animas River through Durango is quite placid, rating 1-2 in difficulty on the 1-5 scale. One stretch close to the embarkation point is referred to as "the lake," it's so smooth. This was not exciting enough for anybody except me, so at the instigation of the guides, the rafts engaged in water battles. Our third of the family paddled to attack another third and we flailed away with our paddles to splash them. They took a bailing bucket full of water and drenched us. Since we had a self-bailing raft, we had no bailing bucket.
Eventually our crew decided it was an unequal contest. We backed off and declared ourselves UN Peace-keepers.
While passing through downtown Durango, the family waved to more family members who were out on the terrace of their hotel. There must have been two dozen of them on the same vacation. They seemed to like each other and be having fun--on a vacation yet. There actually are families like that.
As we passed through some rapids caused by mine trailings south of town, our guide told this was an old uranium mine. It had supplied the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb.
"Hey, George, that's another connection. Remember Tibbets?"
On the flight to Albuquerque, George had sat beside General Paul Tibbets, Jr., (ret.) who was going to Kirtland Air Base to give a speech the next day. The next day, of course, was the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Tibbets, of course, had piloted the plane.
I thought about Tibbets, who had by chance become part of one of the legendary events of our century, an event of mythic, almost religious significance. His story is forever being retold by strangers who freely recraft it to make whatever point they need to make. I've heard it told that Tibbets was so strickened with what he'd done that he became an alcoholic. I've also heard it told that he is proud of his wartime record, has never been an alcoholic, and wonders where the other story came from.
On the way down the Animas, someone asked our guide what he did. He was a student at Ft. Lewis College majoring in sociology. He liked the college, although his first year was tough until he learned how to allocate his time.
What would he do with a sociology degree? He supposed he could go on to teach, but he was really just interested in knowing how things worked. In the mean time, there were rafting trips to guide in the summer and snow boarding in the winter. He was training for snowboarding competition and was doing promotions for the equipment manufacturers. Oh yes, this summer he was working evenings at the Steaming Bean.
He was from Lagrange, Illinois.
On the way back into town, the family led the bus in one of their songs:
My dog Lima likes to roam.
My dog Lima left his home.
Lima came home quite unclean.
Where, oh where, has Lima bean?
This they repeated for "Pinto," "refried," "jelly," "string," "Mexican jumping," "human," ....
George said, "This is my candidate for most annoying song. It's worse than Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer On the Wall; at least with that you can see the end in sight, but this one can just keep on going." George concluded with what I considered an unreliably high estimate of the number of species of legumes in the world.
Like the Baptists in Oklahoma and the Catholics in Chicago and I suppose all large groups, the family was so involved in their own activities that they paid little attention to the reactions of the people they are dragging along with them.
Back at our rooms to change into dry clothing, I noticed it was about time for a train to go by, so I hurried down to the track. I wanted to do something, but I was a little too late. The train was approaching as I came near.
I decided to see what would happen if I didn't wave. I just stood there. The people on the train waved anyway. I thought about giving them a rude gesture and spoiling their day, but I put this Chicago thought behind me and waved back.
After the train was past, I went down and carefully placed a penny on the track. As I was walking away, I heard the trailing speeder rail car came putt-putting by. Damn. It probably knocked the penny off the tracks. It wouldn't be squished by the next train. But I didn't go back to look or replace it; I didn't go the next morning to pick up the flattened coin. I didn't go down to the tracks again.
At the Botanic Garden I see coins that people have tossed in the various waterfalls, ponds, and pools. The people may say it's to get a wish or for good luck. The ancients, a bit more rational, might have said it was an offering to the water nymphs. My penny was an offering to the railroad nymph.
"Where are you going?" asked the motel owner as we checked out Wednesday morning.
"To Creede to see a play, if you mean `Where next?' If you mean where are we going with our lives, I have no idea."
"I'm 73," he said, "and I don't either."
After crossing Wolf Creek Pass, we took State Highway 149 northwest from South Fork and found ourselves paralleling the Rio Grande river and the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad track. When they abandoned service to Creede, they didn't pull up the rails, so the line was clearly visible. But there was grass growing up between the rails, and in places, bushes and small trees.
"When I get rich," said George, "I think I'll buy this line and a couple of steam engines and make a tourist railroad."
"Better than a baseball team."
"Yeah, sports teams are such money losers."
For a while, we discussed organizing the railroad and how much free work we could get out of volunteers.
We noticed across the valley the pine trees were all brown on top, which gave us the opportunity to discuss plagues and contagion and speculate on what happens to a mountain side when all the trees die.
Creede had its beginning in 1890 when the prospector, Mr. N. C. Creede, plunged his pick into a vein of high-grade silver ore and shouted, "Holy Moses, I've struck it rich!" The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad responded quickly, running a line up from Wagon Wheel Gap in 18913.
Most mining boom towns desperately imported civilization: wives, then churches and opera houses. Creede, however, remained a man's town, devoted to the quintessential man's activities: drinking, whoring, fighting, and get-rich-quick schemes.
Creede is still remembered for its colorful citizens. The queens of the libertines were Lulu Slain, "The Mormon Queen"; Rose ("Timberline") Vastine, 6'2" tall; and Lillis Lovell, blonde and hardfisted. These ladies imported girls from Denver and San Francisco for their houses.
Bat Masterson ran the Denver Exchange. Bob Ford, "the dirty little coward" who shot Jessie James, owned the Ford's Exchange Saloon.
In 1892 the train from Alamosa brought Mr. Ed O. Kelley to town. Mr. Kelley was married to a sister of Cole Younger who along with two of his brothers was a member of Jessie James's band. Mr. Kelley brought a sawed-off double barrel shotgun that he almost immediately emptied into Bob Ford. Ford was buried on Shotgun Hill, and Ed Kelley was imprisoned briefly and then pardoned.
Creede's most notorious citizen was Jefferson Randolph ("Soapy") Smith, "King of the Thimbleriggers," who set up a gambling emporium, the Orleans Club, with the motto "Caveat Emptor" inscribed above the door. Although Soapy specialized in fleecing the visiting sheep, he would on occasion sheer some locals, arousing some hard feelings. He was also known for encouraging itinerant preachers to stage revivals and then picking their pockets. But all the money he made in Creede, several hundreds of thousands of dollars back when that meant something--all the money he made in Creede he spent in Creede on women and champagne. When Soapy decided to move on to Denver, a business man told him, "We'll miss you the way we would the calliope at the circus. You've been the town's biggest attraction outside the essay office."
Cy Warman, "the railroad poet" and editor of the Creede Chronicle, immortalized Creede in its wild days with this poem:
Here's a land where all are equal,
Of high or lowly birth--
A land where men make millions
Dug from the dreary earth.
Here meek and mild eyed burros
On mineral mountains feed;
It's day all day in the daytime,
And there is no night in Creede.
The cliffs are solid silver,
With wondrous wealth untold;
The beds of its running rivers
Are lined with purest gold.
While the world is filled with sorrow,
And hearts must break and bleed;
It's day all day in the daytime,
And there is no night in Creede.
The Creede Repertory Theatre began in 1966 with players from the University of Kansas moving into the old Creede Opera House. We were in Creede to attend the afternoon's performance of Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You 4.
The play centers around an extended, non-traditional family presided over by Grandpa Martin Vanderhof. Grandpa attends commencement exercises at nearby Columbia University. Grandpa raises snakes. Grandpa stopped working 35 years ago. "He started up to his office in the elevator and came right down again," his daughter Alice says. "He could have been a rich man, but he said it took too much time."
Grandpa's daughter Penny writes plays. She used to paint, but started writing plays eight years before when a typewriter was delivered to the house by mistake. We see her write herself into a corner in one play and then decide to pull out another one and work on that for a while.
Penny's husband Paul Sycamore makes fireworks assisted by Mr. DePinna who came to deliver ice and stayed eight years. Earlier a postman had come and stayed five years until he died, but they'd never actually learned his name.
Penny's eldest daughter is Essie Carmichael who makes and sells candy. She studies ballet and is forever dancing through the house. Her teacher, Boris Kolenkhov, a refugee from the Russian Revolution, is a frequent visitor.
Essie's husband, Ed, plays tunes on the xylophone and prints things on a small printing press: menu's for their dinner, tracts to be included in Essie's boxes of candy, and such. His previous year's income was $28.50.
Penny's younger daughter, Alice, is the most normal one of the lot. She has a responsible job in a business, and her romance with Anthony Kirby, the boss's son provides the motive power for the plot.
It is Grandpa Martin Vanderhof's philosophy of life that guides the family. He expresses it throughout the play. In saying grace at the end of scene one, he prays:
Well, Sir, we've been getting along pretty good for quite a while now, and we're certainly much obliged. Remember, all we ask is just to go along and be happy in our own sort of way. Of course we want to keep our health, but as far as anything else is concerned, we'll leave it to You. Thank you.
At another point, when he is alone with Boris, Grandpa asks, "Essie making any progress?"
"Confidentially," says Boris, "she stinks."
"Well, as long as she's having fun...."
And on towards the end of the play, he summarizes his philosophy to Mr. Kirby, Anthony's father:
How many of us would be willing to settle when we're young for what we eventually get? All those plans we made . . . what happens to them? It's only a handful of lucky ones that can look back and say they even came close.
I found the play hilarious, but disturbing. It was clearly what I needed to see at this time.
For one thing, it showed the contrast of the large and loving Vanderhof/Sycamore family with the nuclear, unhappy Kirbies. My family is like the Kirbies. And as Mr. Kirby is trying to bring up Tony to be responsible and to work in the company, so I am pressuring my son to be responsible and do his work. Martin Vanderhof's home is a lot more attractive than mine.
But is his home possible? Can a laissez faire attitude work? We did not see the home when Essie and Alice were growing up. Could Alice have turned into an invaluable worker in Kirby's firm if she had been raised without expectations and limits?
Beyond this, are they truly happy? They are doing what they enjoy. They are shown as being happy. But what they are doing they are not doing well. They dabble. Will Penny remain happy writing plays that are never produced? Can activity without accomplishment long bring happiness? Can happiness be built on self-deception?
Or do all their activities misdirect our attention? Are they happy simply because they love each other and are together?
If I want to be happy, where should I look? Shall I find it in activities or in people? Shall I continue to try to accomplish things, or shall I devote myself to friends and family? What shall I say to my son?
"Anything worth doing is worth doing well," the saying goes.
"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly," University of Chicago Professor Richard Miller once advised me. "If it has to be done well to justify it, it must not be that important."
The play let out a bit after 5:00. George and I found a coffee shop, Cafe Olé, a couple of doors away. The coffee was tasty, espresso drinks were available, but the shop closes at 6:00.
"Only one coffee shop in town, and it closes at six."
"Not even close."
On the tables were clear plastic, three sided towers in which 8 1/2" x 11" sheets could be placed, folded so that three columns of information, landscape format, could be seen, one per side. On one side was art work with the name of the cafe and its hours. On the second side was the menu. On the third side was interesting and useful information about coffee, concluding with:
We walked down the street visiting galleries.
"I wish I'd bought a sand painting back in Durango," said George. "They were as good as this and a lot cheaper. Look at this. I wish I had $600 to spend."
"`The rich are very different than you and I.'"
"Yes, they can buy a painting when they want to."
"You know, I'd settle for being independently lower middle class. It's a real bummer having to work for it."
We came to a wood frame, false front building advertising it was a mini-Mall and had a T-shirt shop inside. There was a central hallway. The T-shirt shop occupied most of the right ride. After looking around, I told the owner, a man in his seventies, "I'm impressed. Most T-shirt shops have bland, innocuous designs. You are not afraid of strong statements. You have taste."
He gave me a tour and talked about the T-shirt trade. He knew one of the sections I was referring to.
"This is my Christian section. Baptists come up here to a summer camp. One day one of their leaders asked why I didn't have any T- shirts they would buy.
"`Like what?' I asked.
"`I'll show you a catalog,' he said.
"So I ordered some and they sold out immediately. Now I keep them in stock."
One of them is black. Down the right side of the front is the question, "What has God ever done for me?" Down the other side, barely visible in brown against the black, is the left half of the face of the crucified Christ.
I bought a T-shirt showing a pack of wolves in winter staring out from a grove of Aspens. "This is the last one," he said. "They've stopped making this decal."
It was a little past 6:00 as we walked back to our car. All the shops and galleries were closed. As we drove away we noticed the mini-Mall and T-shirt shop were closed too. My, how things have changed. Now
It's day all day until evening,
And the nights are long in Creede.
On the way to Alamosa, we saw the right leg of a rainbow ahead of us. (Well, if you imagine the rainbow standing spread-legged facing you, it's its left leg.) "Looks like it may be standing on Antonito," I said. "I hope it isn't an omen. I'd HATE it if to find my fortune I had to live in some place like Antonito." Better than being first in some little Adriatic town is being average in Rome.
The St. Ives Pub is a college student hang out. It is a single, long room with a short end along the street. Part way down, the kitchen extends into the room from the right with a counter around it. Further down, the bar extends into the room. The house specialties are beer and sandwiches.
Collegiate types from Adams State College sat in groups around the other tables. We studied the menu. "We can't go wrong with chicken cordon bleu," George said. So we both ordered it. It was breaded chicken breast with a slice of cheese on a roll with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato, in a basket with fries--mine crispy and George's soggy. We got Anchor Steam Beer in bottles.
I told George the story of Anchor Steam that I got from Forbes magazine a couple of years ago. The heir to the Maytag fortune was visiting San Francisco and had an Anchor Steam beer in a restaurant. "Hey," he said, "this tastes good. Where can I get this back East."
"Nowhere," he was told, "It's a local brew. And you won't be able to get it here much longer. The company's going bankrupt."
So he went down, bought the company for a pittance, and gave the brewmeister rein to increase production. Anchor Steam has now gone national.
Sometime during the second round of beers we got into an argument as to whether object-oriented or functional programming is better for compiler writing. I contended that the pattern matching in modern functional languages is better for tree transformation than object-oriented programming which only pattern-matches the dynamic type of one operand. George was contending that that was not an essential part of O-O programming, probably because his own research extends the O-O paradigm. However, I would have no part of extending the definition of Object-Orientation, although the three, or was it four, fundamental principles of O-O were becoming a bit blurry just then. So I started recounting my problems trying to write a compiler in C++. He informed me that C++ wasn't a true O-O language. "Oh, come off it," I said. The conversation deteriorated rapidly.
The waitress came over to see if we wanted another round.
"Better not," I told her. "We've just been fighting about the relative merits of Object-Oriented versus Functional Programming."
She said, "I'll tell them, `I don't know what happened. The two of them were friends when they came in. Then they got into a fight.'"
"Huh? What? Really? When?" George started.
"I was talking about you."
On the way from Alamosa to Antonito, George took a self evaluation test in one of his financial papers that purported to show how he should allocate his money to various mutual funds. Several of the percentages came out negative, and all the categories with positive percentages added up to less than 100%. "I think I'll send them a proposal to fix their test so it actually gives sensible answers," he said.
Clutching Doris B. Osterwald's Ticket to Toltec: A Mile By Mile Guider for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad 5, we pulled out of Antonito station at 10:00 A. M.
The joke gets repeated that the surveyors who laid out route west from Antonito just let their mule loose and followed it to Cumbres. The great pleasure of mountain railroading lies in the track looping back and forth up the sides of valleys and mesas offering wide vistas from the heights. Judged this way, the C&TS is mountain railroading at its best.
Antonito station is near milepost 281, which remember is the distance from Denver on the old D&RG. There are about ten miles of relatively uninteresting, relatively straight track from Antonito through scrub brush to the side of the valley. Between mileposts 291 and 292 is Lava Loop. The track turns east then loops around at a higher level. A short siding leaves the top track eastbound, descends quickly, and rejoins at the bottom eastward leg. This was used by the D&RGW to turn snowplow trains. It is not as spectacular in person as on the map, since the view of the loop is obscured by terrain and brush.
The next loops are between mileposts 295 and 298. The track comes westbound down the south side of a valley, curves across a stream, returns eastwards and higher up on the north side, then makes a broad loop called Whiplash Curve, and heads back west along the top of the ridge from which you can look down and see the two lower levels.
It's a bit beyond Whiplash Curve where the brush begins to give way to patches of trees, then groves and forests. As the train was passing through a grove of pines, George said, "Look." The tops of the trees were brown with cones. "Remember those trees on the way to Creede?" The trees we had seen were brown. We had thought they were diseased. Now we could see clearly that they too had been heavy with cones.
We hadn't been able to tell disease from health.
The track is now high up along the north side of the valley of the Rio de los Piños and following its tributaries up and back. ("Rio de los Piños" means "River of the Pines," not what you think.) There are broad vistas across the valleys, and going up the side of a tributary, you can see the track on the other side coming back.
Tunnels were rare on all the narrow gauge lines: it was easy to snake the tracks around obstacles, and tunnels were expensive to build, but there are two tunnels on the C&TS. The first is Mud Tunnel, 342 feet long, located a bit past milepost 311. The train went slowly through the tunnel, whistle blowing all the way. Coal smoke billowed in through the open windows. At the west end we saw the reason for the whistle: a frightened cow loped away from the track.
At mile 315.2 comes Rock Tunnel, or Toltec Tunnel, right at Toltec gorge. Toltec Gorge is a narrow gorge of the Rio de los Piños located near Toltec Creek. The 366 foot Rock Tunnel cuts past the lip of Toltec Gorge, blocking what would be a spectacular view of the river 600 feet below and the opposite wall 800 feet away. There is not much time for a view, because the Rio de los Piños valley is broad on both sides of the gorge and the track rapidly pulls away from the narrows.
Just west of Rock Tunnel is the Garfield Monument, erected by the National Association of General Passenger and Ticket Agents on September 26, 1881 in memory of President Garfield who was assassinated earlier that year. Thinking of that monument brings me strange, sad feeling. It was an attempt to immortalize a president who is mostly forgotten, erected in a lonely place on a rail line that came close to abandonment.
The train stopped for lunch at Osier (mile 318.4), now just a siding, a water tank, the stone foundations of long abandoned houses, and a new wood-frame, two story dining hall, all spread out along a mountain side.
We sat at the end of a table in the dining hall beside the windows wishing we had taken the barbecued beef western dinner rather than the Mexican, or at least wishing their cooks knew how to flavor Spanish rice. About half an hour after our arrival, we saw black smoke rising behind the ridge opposite us. It moved along the ridge, then the eastbound train rounded the corner and paraded across our view.
After lunch we went out to inspect the engines, looking up their histories in Osterwald. All the remaining D&RGW engines on the narrow gauge lines are Mikados which means they have a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement. The 2-8-2 means there are two unpowered lead wheels, eight powered drivers, and two unpowered trailer wheels. Each steam locomotive wheel arrangement has its own name. The D&RG first used 4-4-0 Americans and 2-6-0 Moguls, then moving on to larger engines with two more driving wheels: 4-6-0 Ten- Wheelers and 2-8-0 Consolidations. Engines with fewer, larger driving wheels were for passenger service: larger drivers could give greater speed. More and smaller driving wheels would give better traction to pull the heavier freight trains. When I was young, I memorized the names and wheel arrangements of classes of American locomotives, an obsolete knowledge even then; by now I've forgotten most of them.
The typical side view of an engine is dominated by the large drivers and the rods connecting them. These engines, though, are outside-frame. Only a sliver of the drivers peek out from under the frame, and the view is dominated by the rods connecting the cranks and counterweights.
Our engine was number 463, one of the last two of the fifteen K- 27 class engines built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1903. These were nicknamed "mudhens." Number 463 worked on the D&RGW until 1955 when Gene Autry bought her and shipped her to his ranch in California. In 1971 she was given to the city of Antonito which leased her to the C&TS in 1989 for $1.00. She returned to active service April 27, 1994.
The 463's remaining sister mudhen, number 464, was sold to Knott's Berry Farm in California in 1973 which sold her to the Huckleberry Railroad located near Flint, Michigan, where she is still in use.
The engine on the eastbound train was number 497, a K-37 class engine. These engines were originally built by the Baldwin works in 1902 as standard gauge C-41 class Consolidations (2-8-0's). In 1928 and 1930 ten of them were rebuilt as narrow gauge Mikados. Engine 497 was owned by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and was the first K-37 ever to enter Silverton after the track was replaced with heavier rails. The K-37's, being the longest and heaviest engines of those still in operation, have difficulty on the sharp curves of the Silverton line, so in 1991, 497 was traded to the C&TS for the non-operational 482, a K-36 class engine.
I paused to wonder how you would tell that an engine had trouble on sharp curves. Obviously if it pops out of the rails.... Maybe if it sticks out and bumps into things.... Since the four pairs of driver wheels are in a straight line, they are obviously the major problem. Even if they do fit between the rails, on a tight curve the inner two wheels are pulled part way off the outer rail and the outer two wheels are pulled off the inner rail, so there would be less traction. Plus the outer wheels will be turning at a larger angle to the outer rails than on a gentler curve, causing more than normal wear to the rail, and probably squealing loudly. Oh, yes, and the flanges will be grinding too.
So I decided to test out the theory by looking up the wheelbase in Osterwald's books. Ticket To Toltec didn't have the information. In Cinders and Smoke I found the K-37 (490's) drivers have a 12'-3" wheelbase. The K-36 (480's) drivers also have a 12'-3" wheelbase. The K-28 (470 Sportsmodels) do too. Well so much for that idea. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any spectacular difference between the 480's and 490's. I wondered if the 490's might have a higher center of gravity, but the specifications didn't enlighten me on the subject at all.
I feel an affection for engines; I like knowing their stories. I suppose that even if we did not refer to engines as "she" (and Osterwald does not), even if we carefully do not ascribe human attributes to them, we would still personify them in a way, for we tell stories about them, and the essence of being human is having stories told about you.
About five miles beyond Osier, the Rio de los Piños turns north. Now little more than a creek itself, it flows through a charming mountain meadow. The train, itself little above the water course, follows the stream north and then in a stretch of eight-tenths of a mile of straight track, crosses the river. The straight track ends in a hair-pin bend. Four more miles beyond and one mile east of Cumbres Pass comes Tanglefoot Curve, the most picturesque curve on the system. In The People, Yes, Carl Sandburg tells
Of a mountain railroad curve where the engineer in his cab can touch the caboose and spit in the conductor's eye
That's Tanglefoot Curve. The track turns left, then loops back right, and comes around only a few feet away but higher up. And unlike Lava Loop and Whiplash Curve, which loop from the side of a mesa around onto the top, Tanglefoot Curve is in a stream valley and so is all visible at once.
At Cumbres Pass is a full rail yard, with a station house and a covered wye for turning engines. The train stopped to allow the trainmen to inspect the brakes; the rest of the way down to Chama is a steep, four percent grade. The next two miles west of Cumbres is the last of the spectacular mountain railroading: Windy Point, where the track is laid on a shelf cut into the rock, and the last hairpin loop. Thereafter the train descends through the forest along the valley of Wolf Creek and the Rio Chama.
The bus got us back to our car in Antonito at 5:30. I drove south on US285 the junction with US64 at Tres Piedras. The land was all dry earth and scrub brush. Off on either side lay mountains, low and dark blue on the horizon. The mountains would have shade and flowing water, but from here they looked menacing. Nothing but scrub brush, no matter how long we traveled, and the mountains never seemed to move. Like life.
Then I noticed we had a problem. We had only about an eighth of a tank of gas showing and at each glance the needle seemed to move lower. I asked whether George thought we should go back to Antonito. He looked at the map. There was no town before the junction with 64.
"I think we'll make it to Tres Piedras," he said. "We'd even make it to Taos."
"I think so too."
We kept on. I watched the gas gauge creep. I rolled up the windows to cut air drag. I turned on the fan, but not the air conditioning, which I judged would take too much power.
Then we hit highway construction. A flagman stopped us. I turned off the engine while we waited. After maybe ten minutes a column of cars came through. The truck in the lead pulled over and let the others by. It turned into our lane showing the sign "Pilot Car, Follow Me." So I crept along a corrugated road behind him, staring at my gas gauge all the way.
At the end of the construction I sped away hoping to get to Tres Piedras before my gas ran out. But I began to think: I'm not consuming gas by the time on the road, but by the amount of work the car is doing. If I remember correctly, air resistance goes up more than linearly with speed. With effort I slowed myself to the speed limit.
George looked over at the gauge. "There's always a spare amount. Two gallons. We can probably go another 70 miles after it reaches empty."
"I guess so. But if it weren't for being late for appointments, carrying full coffee cups, and running low on gas, I wouldn't have any excitement in my life at all." Just then we passed a sign, "Tres Piedras, 3mi." We pulled into the Chevron station with gas to spare.
"How much should we get?" asked George. "We've bought a final full tank from the rental company, so we need to bring it in as close to empty as we can. Six gallons enough? Eight?"
"I'll just get $10 worth."
We paid and then pulled out onto US 64 heading east. "Oh, Shit! We've got 3/4 of a tank. Too much. We won't be on empty by Albuquerque."
On the way East towards Taos, we again saw the right leg of a rainbow.
The road was generally dropping through the scrub brush. After a half hour or so, I saw signs advising of a rest area ahead. "Rest area? Who the hell would want to rest where there there's no shade?" And suddenly I knew why the rest area was here. I pulled to the side of the highway just before the high bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge.
George and I walked onto the bridge along the sidewalk. We walked about 1/3 of the way across the bridge. We paused at a little viewing platform, a short widening of the sidewalk. I peered down at the rocks and the river 650 feet below. Then we walked back to our car and drove on towards Taos.
"That scared the shit out of me," said George. He kept repeating it in different words.
"I have acrophobia," I told him. "Or at least I used to. Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have been able to walk out on that bridge. Or if I were out there, I wouldn't have been able to get off it.
"But I figured out back then that acrophobia isn't fear of falling. It's fear of jumping, the fear that you'll take it into your fool head to jump and you won't be able to stop yourself in time.
"This time, I knew I wasn't going to jump. I knew the guard rail was too high to fall over. Whenever the old panic started to come, I stopped it. I don't know how, just stopped it. When I found myself wrapping an arm around a railing, I forced myself to let go, because it was stupid. I looked down at the patterns of the rocks, at the bridge supports, at the river wondering what rating it is for rafting. But I never let myself think of myself nor how far up I was."
As George expounded some more on how scared he had been, I thought back to my days of phobias. It was like I had a monster in me. I was afraid that if I let my guard down for just one moment, it might kill me. And then suddenly I had had a revelation: Yes, I did have a monster inside me, but the monster loved me; I imagined a smile on scaly lips.
We came south on Paseo del Pueblo Norte and turned left into the parking lot of the Laughing Horse Inn, our motel for the night. The gravel parking lot has trees growing in it. To the right was a stone wall with a creek beyond it, ahead, a fence made of tree trunks with bark standing on end and bound closely together, to the left, an oddly shaped building.
A sign saying "Office" with an arrow led us through a door, to an anteroom. Through the doorway to the left was a dining room with dining room table. Through the doorway ahead, a living room with chairs and couches and sitar music playing on the stereo. The only immediate hint that it might be a motel was two circular racks of postcards. Since it was not clear with whom we should be checking in, and since nobody came up to help us, George and I poked our heads around here and there. I found a pad of registration forms on a shelf and filled one out. A look through the doorway at the other side of the anteroom (right as you come in) revealed a curving hallway with doors on the left side. On the first door was painted a script 1.
A thin, casually-dressed, bearded guy came through with some people in tow. He said he'd be with us in a moment.
When he came back, we introduced ourselves. His name was Jerry. He showed us around. "This is the common room." he said as we walked through the living room. "Over here are audio tapes, and there are video tapes. Help yourselves.
"Here's the kitchen. Use what you need and clean up after yourselves. We're on the honor system, take what you want from the refrigerator and mark it on the back of your registration card. There's the price list. The card is under your room number over here."
Jerry led us down a hall way past doors marked 6, 5, 7, 9, and 8, in that order. I had noticed that a door with a script 10 on it was directly off the kitchen. Jerry paused at an unmarked door. "Here's a toilet, but I see it's occupied, so I can't show it to you." At the end of the hall way we went outside. "Here's the Jacuzzi. It's always on, just help yourself. You'll have to take the cover off. This gentleman will put the cover on when he's done."
Jerry took us over to the end of the other hall to room 4. "Here's your room." Our room was a trapezoidal shape. The door was at the right side of the smaller parallel wall. The wall to the right was approximately perpendicular; at its other end was a counter with a sink. On the left wall was the bunk bed. The bottom was a single twin bed. Up above at about 6 feet high a double bed extended out beyond it, accessible by a log ladder that stood in the middle of the room. The ceiling was higher near the door and lower toward the back of the room. Whoever occupied the top bunk might have to sleep with their feet sideways, but near the head of the upper bunk, set into the ceiling, was the TV.
"This is alternative," said George. "My cousin thinks he is alternative, but this is alternative."
Breakfast time in the kitchen at the Laughing Horse, George struck up a conversation with a girl from Denver. She had four days of vacation. She was due more, but her boss had been fired, so they couldn't give her the time now. She was down here with her boy friend for two days, then off to Durango.
"You'll love Durango," George told them. "It has four coffee shops."
She asked what we did for a living.
George bragged we were in computers. "And Scott Adams--you know Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip? You know Dilbert?--Scott Adams says computer people are the sex symbols of the nineties."
"I can see that," she said. "Reliable, steady..."
"I don't believe it, " I said.
"You don't give us proper credit," George said.
"I have evidence that chubby, middle-aged computer people are not sex symbols."
"Maybe it depends on how young you are interested in," she said.
She, her boyfriend, George, and I were sitting around the kitchen table. Her boyfriend was looking the way a man usually looks when his woman has picked up a couple of stray guys.
I was still trying to write the description of our room. "What do you call a bed that's wide enough for two but is neither Queen nor King?"
"A double," she said.
"A twin?" suggested George.
"That's wide enough for one."
"Because of the assumption there's going to be two of them," I said. "For a country that stresses individualism, we sure go around in groups a lot.
"I suppose I'm more of a loner than most. I'm worried. There aren't a lot of jobs for loners. Maybe I should learn something about weapons and explosives. It's either that or become a writer, but writers tend to be paranoid."
"The important thing about terrorism is not to kill people," George said. "It's to leave them shaken and with no confidence left. The bombers who kill people are such cowards."
"Consider the Unabomber. How can he imagine he can change society by killing a few people who open their own mail?"
"They're going to get him," the boy friend said. "That 35,000 word letter he sent to the New York Times."
"And the Washington Post, wasn't it?"
"And Penthouse. Bob Guccione offered the Unabomber a column."
"Penthouse," the girl made a face. "Men read that for the columns, right?"
"I read Playboy mainly for the jokes and cartoons," I said. "I subscribe for my teen-age son, so he'll have something normal to imprint on. My only requirement is that he let me read it first, if `read' is the word." The girl was turning a shade that showed the conversation was veering off in a direction she hadn't intended. "I occasionally see an article I'd like to read, but when I get around to it, I can't find the magazine any more."
"You're getting to see me blush," she said.
"Women are different than men," I said. "Women don't understand male sexuality, and to the extent they do understand, they don't approve."
After breakfast, George and I sat in the common room across from a young, blonde woman whom I suspected of having some official connection with the Inn--I didn't inquire and it's hard to tell. She was telling us, "I've been living here for three years and I think tourists who are here a few days leave knowing more about Taos than I do. I just keep to my own things.
"Property values just keep going up around here. There are a lot of Californians moving in who have money.
"I was talking to the man who owns the auto repair shop across the street. He said he and his friends would go up the road to some land and party there. Nobody could sell the land. It's all scrub brush. It's not sure you can get water up there. Now it's for sale for $20,000 an acre.
"A one bedroom apartment rents for $500-$600 a month. A two bedroom home costs maybe $150,000."
"That's as much as in Chicago's West suburbs," said George.
"It's difficult for someone just out of college to afford a place to live," she said.
"I see why there are so many art galleries in Creede," I said.
"Creede. It's a small town in Colorado. Used to be large and rich. Silver mines. Now it has maybe 500 people and one art gallery for every 50 of them.
"Artists tend to move to out-of-the-way places where it's cheap to live. Then the rich people want to move in to be near the excitement, bid up the land prices, and drive out the people they came to be near.
"Why do the rich come and buy places in Taos? To crash the party. To be in on the excitement. But if they were creative themselves, if they were exciting, there would be no reason for them to move. People would want to be near them.
"The rich are an infestation. They do not themselves contribute to the culture, and they make life impossible for those who do."
Reflecting back on it, I realize that I am also part of the infestation. I'd like to move out here. But would I contribute? I'm a "lurker" on the Internet newsgroups: I read but contribute nothing. I love living in Evanston, benefiting from the Northwestern University student and faculty culture, but I contribute nothing to the city.
It's probably just as well I can't afford to move to Taos.
"How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb?"
"What is it? Twenty? One to change the light bulb and 19 to share the experience?"
"Right. How many Taoseños does it take to change a light bulb?"
"I give up."
"Fifty. One to change the light bulb and 49 to keep out the Californians trying to share the experience."
"Oh. The Oregonians joke. Right?"
There was a sign in the Laughing Horse saying, "D. H. Lawrence may have slept here." Taos makes much of D. H. Lawrence having lived there once. Chicago doesn't bother to boast about the important people who have briefly lived there or passed through. This reminds one that Taos is, after all, a small town.
After breakfast, George asked Jerry about using the Laughing Horse as a conference center. The Laughing Horse has a house across the street that would work. George explained to me, "When the money arrives, we'll need to have a retreat to design the system. This place tells people that things don't have to be the way they've always thought. It shakes them out of their assumptions. You're invited. We'll pay everybody's way."
I asked Jerry about coffee shops.
"The one everybody goes to is Caffe Tazza. It's in the first block on Kit Carson Road."
We spent two hours in the Caffe Tazza in their big room. The patio outside was occupied by the locals. George was muttering because nowhere in Taos had he found a Wall Street Journal. Then off to visit galleries. We lasted about an hour before we were weary of it.
One of the last galleries we went into had paintings of Monument Valley, a grouping of beautifully eroded sandstone spires over on the Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona--you've seen them in automobile commercials. The owner of the gallery showed us how the coloring of the painting changed as she turned the flood- lights down and up, just like the real spires.
I remarked to her that I saw many paintings by Anglos and many by native Americans, but I had seen very few by Hispanics. She acknowledged that she had only a few. She showed them to me, scenes of the yards around adobe houses, views of churches, scenes of everyday life but no people. So we fell to talking about art and life. I told her, "Someone once said to me, `Think of your life as a work of art,' and so help me, my first reaction was `I hate Jackson Pollock.'"
We thought of going out to visit the pueblo, a must-see according to the guide books, but we couldn't gather up enough interest. We figured they wouldn't have coffee shops. So instead I told George about the time Carl Jung visited the pueblo, years ago. Carl Jung talked to the chief of the Taos pueblos, Mountain Lake ("Ochwiay Biano" in Tiwa). Jung found that the Indians were very tight- lipped about their religion, so he probed by looking closely at affect. When emotions arose, he knew he had touched something significant. But not all Mountain Lake's thoughts were veiled: 6
"See," Ochwiay Biano said, "how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are mad."
I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad.
"They say they think with their heads," he replied.
"Why of course. What do you think with?" I asked him in surprise.
"We think here," he said, indicating his heart.
I fell into a long meditation. For the first time in my life, so it seemed to me, someone had drawn for me a picture of the real white man.
Later in the conversation Mountain Lake expressed the Taos pueblo people's place in the universe:
"After all," he said, "we are a people who live on the roof of the world; we are the sons of Father Sun, and with our religion we daily help our father to go across the sky. We do this not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. If we were to cease practicing our religion, in ten years the sun would no longer rise. Then it would be night forever."
I then realized on what the "dignity," the tranquil composure of the individual Indian, was founded. It springs from his being a son of the sun; his life is cosmologically meaningful, for he helps his father and preserver of all life in his daily rise and descent. If we set this against our own self- justifications, the meaning of our own lives as it is formulated by our reason, we cannot help but see our poverty.
"I think I have my Taos poem."
"What is it?"
"Wanting to get in her pants,
He took her to Taos for romance,
For the je ne sais quoi,
t--I guess you would say ambiance."
"How does it go, again?"
We arrived in Santa Fe at about sundown. After checking into our hotel far down Cerrillos Road, we headed for the Plaza. As we turned North on Galisteo, I was checking our guide book. "There should be a coffee shop along here somewhere .... There it is."
George found street parking and we walked back to the Galisteo News, a combination news stand and coffee shop on the south-east corner of Galisteo and Water streets. The shop has a square section of the building missing at the street corner with a ramada above and three-legged tables and metal chairs in the sidewalk patio.
George looked for a Wall Street Journal but didn't find one. He bought an Investors' Daily instead.
We sat outdoors with our coffee. The evening was pleasantly cool and dry. People flowed past. "This paper is excellent," George muttered now and then as he read items. I tried to catch up on my journal entries.
George begged a sheet of paper to calculate his earnings on some mutual fund. "I'm getting forty-something percent. I told Scott about this last year, but he didn't get around to doing anything about it. Now I've got 40% and he's got bank interest."
"I'm glad that one of us is going to be rich. That is, if you don't go broke. If you're doing a random walk, there's a barrier pretty close to one side."
George laughed and calculated more 40% yields.
"Of course," I continued, "I'm always looking for the lottery to roll over so that the expected payoff is higher than the price of a ticket. I figure in the course of six or seven million years, I should come out ahead."
"But then, the sun will burn out in, say, five billion years, so you'll only get 4,993,000,000 years in which to spend your winnings."
"I'm not worried. I'm planning to move before then."
Leaving the Galisteo News at 9:45, we walked. I wanted to find the Santa Fe School of Cooking in the Plaza Mercado where we were signed up for a class the next morning. The Plaza Mercado turned out to be the four story indoor mall right across Water Street from the Galisteo News that I'd been staring at all evening. We walked through it past closed shops and open restaurants and found the School on the north side. Then we walked a block east to the Plaza. Groups of people filled the sidewalks, some milling, some surging. Rock music was blaring from a second-story restaurant.
We roamed among the crowds absorbing their energy, stopping at a parking lot on Water street to ask advice.
"Get here by 8:30," the attendant said. "That's when we fill up."
So we'd be eating breakfast near the Plaza. We walked back over to the Galisteo News. There was a cute, dark-haired girl working the counter. "We don't notice any breakfast items on the menu board. We're thinking of eating here tomorrow morning, and we were wondering what's available."
"There's a breakfast board," she said. "Let's see if we can find it." She and George went off looking for it with me trailing along behind. After an extensive search of the lower level hadn't turned it up, she did her best to remember what they offered. "I only work here evenings," she said. "I'll be here tomorrow evening."
As we drove away at 10:30, the town was still vibrantly alive.
"Livable," said George.
"Livable," I agreed.
We were sitting out doors at the Galisteo News having breakfast. Reading through my notes, I had an inspiration. "I've decided that this trip is about the Meaning of Life," I told George.
"But life has no meaning. It just is."
"The biological process of life has no meaning," I agreed, "but when people use the term `the Meaning of Life,' I think what they are doing is using the metaphor, `life is a story.' We want to story of our lives to be meaningful and not, as Shakespeare used the metaphor, `a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'"
George agreed the idea sounded nice, but expressed some inchoate doubts that anyone's life could be a meaningful story.
I, however, was charmed with the idea. It became my new toy that I played with all day.
Our instructor at the Santa Fe School of Cooking was Cheryl Jamison, a youthful, blonde, vigorous woman who writes cook books and travel books with her husband. Their newest cook book, Smoke and Spice, had just received the James Beard Award for excellence. We sat around tables making notes on the photocopied recipes as she demonstrated the preparation of the dishes and gave advice on ingredients, in particular, what you can substitute if you don't live in New Mexico--although you can mail order the correct ingredients from the School. After the demonstration, we ate the food that she and her assistant, Pedro, had prepared.
George was a hit with the other attendees, giving advice on the amazingly few differences between New Mexican and East Indian cuisine--mainly ginger, if I recall.
After the meal we chatted with the Hispanic woman working the counter at the shop, asking advice on where to shop. She had a white patch in her black hair, like George's.
"Is it real?" she asked him.
"Yes. My father had one too."
"When did you get yours? I got mine at seventeen. The other school kids called me `skunk.'"
I told her I was looking for a book on New Mexican primitive religious art for my wife. She suggested I ask the priests at her church, the oldest church in New Mexico, where to look. She also recommended where to find the best margaritas in Santa Fe.
Leaving the School, George and I roamed the Plaza area visiting galleries and nick-knack stores. I asked in one of the galleries about the book. The woman there gave me a large map showing all the shops in the Plaza area and marked one of the shops with an accent marker. "Go see Nicholas Potter," she said. "You're here. Go East. He's across the street from the Cathedral on the north side." These people are serious about not letting shoppers leave empty-handed or full-pocketed.
We found the Nicholas Potter Bookstore easily. I asked if he had a book on New Mexican primitive religious art. He said, "There's a book with almost exactly that title, but I don't have a copy. Here are the closest."
I found exactly what I was looking for. While paying, I told him, "Your cadence of speech reminds me a lot of my cousin Richard, a Washington bureaucrat who grew up in Oklahoma. If you don't mind my asking, where are you from?"
"That's amazing. That's where I live."
"I grew up over by Davis and Asbury," he said. "I went back to visit a couple of years ago. I noticed there still wasn't a plaque there to commemorate my childhood home."
Pausing at the motel room before going out for the night, George tried to call his cousin about when to pick him up at O'Hare the next day. No luck. So George called Scott to ask him to pass along the information.
Scott told George the news about the lawyer who'd been giving them legal advice for a 2% stake in the company and who had written the company by-laws. He had died that week of complications during by-pass surgery. He was 50 years old.
George and I drove out to St. John's College to attend an outdoor performance of A Comedy of Errors. Rain delayed the performance by 15 minutes and prevented us from buying supper at the food table. A short time into Act I, it started raining again. We'd had enough. We drove back to the motel to change into something dry. George wanted to go to eat, but I demanded my turn. Since we'd tried Shakespeare for him, now we went to a contra dance for me.
The dance was at the Oddfellows Hall. George sat out with a headache. I danced every dance.
During the break, I was talking to one of the couples there. The man was asking whether I was out here on business or vacation.
I told him, "I'm looking for the meaning of life."
"You have a lot of company. A lot of people come out here for that. Do you go to churches? Are you interested in spirituality?"
"As a Unitarian Universalist."
"It's something like that." He then invited me to visit his church the next day. "The services run from 10:30 to 12:00."
"I have to be turning in a rental car in Albuquerque a hour after it gets out. I don't think I have time."
Another guy joined our group and looked quizzical.
"What's your church called?" I asked.
After the contra dance, George and I headed down to the plaza area to eat. I said, "We could go to the Galisteo News again. That girl should be working tonight."
"No," said George. "I don't feel like it. I mean, I'd like to date her, but I'm leaving tomorrow. What's the point?"
We parked in the area of the Plaza just past 11:00 and went hunting for a restaurant. Everything was closed or closing.
"What is this? Closing at 11:00. Why in Chicago, some places are just getting started."
"And it's an hour later there."
"Well, decrement the livability of this town."
Hunting for food, we went out to a Denny's.
"We are violating our principle never to eat at a chain," said George.
The menu offered the best that a deep fat fryer could produce. Well, gotta eat. We ordered.
"There were a lot of attractive women at the dance," remarked George. "Twenties, thirties, forties."
I quoted a stanza from Kipling's "The Ladies." Then I recited the whole thing, except for the chorus, which, I explained to George, nobody quotes now because it is too racist.
"Was Kipling a racist?" asked George.
"Probably. He did write `Take up the white man's burden' to welcome America to the ranks of the imperial nations. Hard to avoid it at that time and place. He was certainly pro-British and their ancestors. And there is an English saying, `The wogs start at Calais.'
"But racism isn't the real issue with the Brits. I'm told that whatever an English novel is supposedly about, it's really about trying to understand the class system. We're the ones who say to them, `Why don't you write about something really important, like racism?'
"Racism is our issue and it comes from our democratic institutions. We do not define ourselves by being an ethnic group or by having lived somewhere since time immemorial. We define ourselves by documents: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Gettysburgh Address. We define ourselves by our covenant to agree to and act upon certain principles.
"`We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...' but we had slavery. We had a more severe slavery than other societies, based on race, and one drop of African blood made one a candidate for slavery. We had to define the slaves as being so different that our principles could not apply."
"We dehumanized them," said George. "That's what people always do. But you shouldn't dismiss class in American society. Remember the two real political parties and the two fake political parties?" He was referring to Kurt Vonnegut's essay on the `72 Republican convention. Vonnegut said that if an alien from some other planet came to the US during an election, he would conclude there are two real political parties and two fake political parties. The fake political parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. The two real political parties are the Winners and the Losers. Both fake political parties are run by the Winners.
George continued, "Pete Wilson's whole problem in California is that so many of his own people are utter incompetents. Of course they complain about affirmative action, but they aren't good enough to get jobs anyway. We should never look down on people who are willing to take jobs that nobody else is willing to do. I can't get my own cousin to scrub the toilet. But these incompetents aren't willing to do the jobs they are qualified for and aren't qualified for the jobs they want.
"When I get to be President, I'll make it a campaign promise to keep a fraction of all jobs available for those who aren't competent to perform them."
"Like Federal judgeships?"
"My administration would have a place for Clarence Thomas.
"This is a country of victims. People came here because they would have died in their own countries. They had nowhere else to go."
"Is that really true? I suppose it applies to the potato famine, but I thought many people came for opportunities they wouldn't have had in the old country."
"They were losers there. They were victims.
"When I went to Kerala, I found that my father didn't have to leave. He could have stayed, but he wanted to be here. But most have no real choice."
"`Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,'" I recited, "`yearning to breath free, the tainted refuse from your teaming shore....'"
"Victims," he said.
"How is everything?" the waitress asked.
"Every bit as good as we expected," George told her.
The flight from Albuquerque was delayed three hours. Thunderstorms over Minneapolis had delayed the departure of our plane.
When we boarded the plane, I saw a thin, blonde stewardess who stood staring blankly into space. She started when she noticed me looking at her. "Yes?"
"You're working overtime."
"Fourteen hours by the time we're done."
When we got to Minneapolis/St. Paul, we had just missed our connecting flight to Chicago. We went over to the ticket counters to get our flight assignment and a voucher for that night's accommodations. We stood in line surrounded by people muttering to each other about how they would never fly Northwest Airlines again.
I said to the woman at the counter, "Let me guess: You're on overtime."
She looked down at her display, "It says, `status: frozen.'"
They had my sympathy. Their lives were disrupted like everyone else's, but they had to receive the others' anger. They had no way to win. All they could do was their jobs. As Thucydides said of the Athenian soldiers at Syracuse, "Having done what men could, they suffered what men must."
It was on the flight from Albuquerque to Minneapolis/St. Paul that our vacation ended. As our delayed plane rose out of Albuquerque, I saw a leg of a rainbow touching a mountain. I decided this rainbow was a refraction in the window of the plane, but I wondered anyway, "Is this where I should spend my remaining days?"
George said, "Remember in Taos when we were talking to that girl how you called the rich an infestation? I thought you were right on about how the rich have no culture of their own and whenever they try to get in on the fun, they drive out the people who made the excitement possible. It explains why social trends start in the lower classes, then the rich pick them up, and finally the middle classes go along. The middle class are too status conscious to copy from the poor; they want to be like the rich. The rich are so shallow they have to copy from the poor."
"Most of the things I've said on this trip have been routines I've already rehearsed, but that was spontaneous. I guess it may even be true. It reminds me of a fragment of a poem by e e cummings:
...the godless are the boring,
and the boring are the damned.
except I like to say, `the shallow are the boring....' 7
"But I wonder why the middle classes have so little culture of their own. They have the education. I guess it's trying to raise their families. Having to work for their living, having children to support, fear of falling into poverty, it all makes them timid. They remind me of the century plant, its whole life is nondescript except for one last effort to reproduce, which wears it out, and then it dies.
"I do wish I were independently middle class. Having to work for it wears me down.
"Try this: The poor are very different than you and I, George."
"They are interesting?"
"How about: `Yes, they have lives.'"
After a while, I said, "I'm reminded of the story of Solon and King Croesus from Herodotus, if you have the time. It's a bit long."
So I told the story:
Solon was the lawgiver of Athens. The Athenians had sworn powerful oaths to obey his laws for ten years before changing them. Only Solon could make changes, so every morning there was a line of supplicants outside his door wanting this or that dispensation.
Solon had always wanted to travel, and he thought that now was a good time. So he embarked on a tour of about ten years duration.
When Solon arrived at Sardis, King Croesus welcomed him as a knowledgeable, well-traveled conversationalist. Croesus had a slave show Solon the treasury piled high with gold and precious gems worked by the finest artisans.
Two or three days later, after dinner Croesus fished for a compliment. "Visitor, you have a reputation for your wide travels and breadth of knowledge. Who would you say is the happiest of mortals?"
"Telus of Athens," Solon replied.
Astounded, Croesus asked, "Why?"
"Well, he had enough material possessions for his needs throughout his life, and he saw his sons grow to manhood and have sons of their own. Then when his city was at war, he went forth and died so heroically on the battle field that he was given a public funeral where he fell."
"Well then who would you say is the second happiest?"
"Cleobis and Biton."
"Cleobis and Biton. Two young men of Argos. They had enough to be comfortable throughout their lives and they were strong and skilled enough to win prizes at the games.
"One day their mother, who was a priestess of Hera, needed to be conveyed to the temple in an ox cart for a ceremony, but the oxen were late in being brought from the fields. So the boys put their mother in the cart and their own necks in the harness and pulled the cart the five miles to the temple themselves. The women had such praise for the mother for having such dutiful sons, and the men such praise for the boys for their strength, that their mother was filled with pride. She went up to the statue of Hera and prayed that She would grant her sons the greatest gift that the gods could grant to mortals. Then the ceremony was performed, the sacrifice was made, and the sacred meal was eaten. And the goddess must have heard her prayer, because after the meal, the boys fell asleep in the temple, and in their sleep, quietly and peacefully, they died."
"Humpf. And where do you put my happiness, that you put mere commoners ahead of me?"
"You are certainly blessed, but many people are fortunate for a while, and then the gods bring them down. A human life is maybe seventy years; that's somewhere over 25,000 days, and each day can bring things unlike the others. I believe one should always look to the end to see if one is truly happy or merely fortunate for a time."
And so, when Solon left on his journey a few days later, Croesus was not sad to see him go.
We were silent for a while. I thought some more about Croesus. He was the one who asked the Oracle at Delphi whether he would be successful if he attacked the Persians. The Oracle assured him he would bring down a great empire. He attacked King Cyrus and did bring down a great empire: his own.
How many days were there in Croesus's life? How many different things did they bring? Of all those things that happened to him, why do we remember only this? Because this is a story in which Herodotus found meaning. Isn't it that all meaning in life comes from editing, from selection of some coherent set of facts to make a story? Wouldn't a human life be better viewed not as a story, but as a bag from which story after story can be pulled? If true, then what does that do to my idea that the meaning of life is the meaning of its story?
But the vacation mood was passing and before I had these thoughts worked out, George started the next conversation. The rest of the way back, we talked about the software company and the chances of bringing in some real money.